05/17/2011 12:57PM

Preakness: Maragh confident Mucho Macho Man can turn the tables on Animal Kingdom

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Mucho Macho Man needs to make up about three lengths on Animal Kingdom to reverse the outcome of the Kentucky Derby in Saturday's Preakness.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Even by jockey Rajiv Maragh’s own admission, Mucho Macho Man had no real excuse when finishing third, three lengths behind Animal Kingdom, in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.

Getting an unimpeded trip, Mucho Macho Man simply could not match strides with Animal Kingdom in the stretch as Animal Kingdom came to him and went by him in the final three-sixteenths of a mile. Mucho Macho Man did close well on Nehro to lose second by only a neck.

PREAKNESS STAKES 2011: Contender profiles, news updates, video, and odds

Despite the trouble-free trip in the Derby, Maragh goes into Saturday’s $1 million Preakness confident in his horse’s chances to turn the tables on Animal Kingdom. Two of the last four Derby third-place finishers to run back in Preakness – Curlin in 2007 and Afleet Alex in 2005 – won the race.

“It’s not hard to make up three lengths,’’ Maragh said Monday morning as he watched Mucho Macho Man come off the Belmont Park training track following a spirited gallop. “Whether it’s the half a furlong shorter or the different track, three lengths isn’t hard to make up on Animal Kingdom or any horse. If someone beats you by three lengths it doesn’t mean that he’s so much better than you from my perspective.’’

On a rainy, dreary Tuesday morning, Maragh got even a better perspective on Mucho Macho Man’s chances when he guided the sturdy bay colt through a half-mile workout in 49.21 seconds over a sloppy Belmont training track. Daily Racing Form timed Mucho Macho Man in 12.27 seconds for the opening eighth, 24.09 for the quarter, and 49.21 for four furlongs. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.70 in a move conducted during a steady rainstorm.

“It’s definitely a positive sign that he worked the way he did today,’’ Maragh said afterward. “I don’t know how I’d be feeling if he didn’t work, but the fact is he did and he went well; makes me feel good.’’

Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, also feels good about her colt coming into Saturday’s race. Unlike Animal Kingdom, who basically has to run in the Preakness in order to remain alive for the Triple Crown, there is no pressure on Ritvo to run back on short rest. But the horse has seemed to bounce back so well, “I don’t see a reason to skip it,’’ Ritvo said.

Though he has never run back on two weeks’ rest, Mucho Macho Man has run two of his best races on three weeks’ rest. Last fall, he finished second behind To Honor and Serve in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct just three weeks after finishing second to that same rival in the Grade 2 Nashua.

“That’s when I knew he was something special back in the spitbox after the Remsen, he wasn’t tired, he was just mad,’’ Ritvo said.

This year, Mucho Macho Man won the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds 20 days after running fourth in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. Mucho Macho Man lost a shoe when third in the Louisiana Derby before his solid effort in Louisville.

Ritvo said she walked away from the Derby proud of both herself and her horse.

“I was proud of myself,’’ Ritvo said. “I think he was a ready horse. My goal was to keep him very consistent and he was has been.’’

Given that Mucho Macho Man is a June 15 foal and won’t officially turn 3 until after the Belmont Stakes is run – Ritvo believes her horse has license to improve.

“I think he’s only going to get better from the Derby,’’ Ritvo said.

Maragh said Tuesday’s work was an indication to him that the horse is getting better.

“Sometimes he has a tendency by himself to be a little lazy, not focused, but he was very focused today,’’ Maragh said. “I definitely see some progression; maybe the light bulb went off on this horse.’’

And perhaps Mucho Macho Man could shine brightest of all on Saturday.